Sunday 22 December 1996
We have it all wrong about Alain Juppe, apparently. One of the most unpopular French Prime Ministers in recent years, he is popularly perceived as an arrogant, humourless egghead without an ounce of political common sense, as both the polls and his nickname - "The Walking Computer" - show.
To dispel this image he submitted to a Hello-style spread in Paris Match last week, showing him in the bosom of his family. He also published a 116-page apologia, Between Ourselves, in which he discloses that he is more sensitive to criticism than he appears, and, while denying the charge of arrogance, promises to be "more accessible, more open to dialogue". (Presumably this would be dialogue of a more genteel kind than the incident which made him realise he needed to do something about his image: a well- dressed woman shouted "Death to the bastard!" on encountering him in the street.)
The lean, balding and hungry Juppe, who says President Jacques Chirac frequently advises him to put on weight if he wants to become more popular, attended the notoriously elitist Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), but denies he is a technocrat. At this institution, it now emerges, "I was very unhappy ... I came from a very modest background." Besides, he adds plaintively, being an ENA graduate "doesn't make you any less human".
Can one imagine a British PM being so pathetic? Is there no French equivalent for "stiff upper lip"? Sadly, I must inform you that, far from becoming a laughing stock, pauvre Alain's polls rating has risen five points. Maybe the French have the Prime Minister they deserve.
Like the Germans and Austrians, the Czechs set great store by academic titles, and frequently refer to each other as "Mr Doctor", "Mr Engineer" or even "Mr Professor Engineer".
How embarrassing, then, when it emerged that several of the country's esteemed MPs have been just a touch economical with the truth when it comes to their academic qualifications.
The most senior figure to be rumbled was Jan Kalvoda, the leader of one of the junior coalition parties, who for years has been inaccurately putting himself about as a Doctor of Law. The humiliation of the discovery was too much for the one-time law student, who promptly told his startled colleagues that he was resigning from his position as Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister.
So far Mr Kalvoda is one of only five MPs to have been caught embellishing their CVs, but a parliamentary commission is now investigating how many other bogus doctors, professors and engineers there may be.
The country's most celebrated intellectual, President Vaclav Havel, has no need to fear. As a dissident under Communism, he was forced to take manual jobs and not allowed to study for a degree. But as Lidove Noviny newspaper commented: "He made himself a name, not a title."
Nice he ain't
Political correctness has some way to go in Israel, if President Ezer Weizman is anything to judge by. Homosexuality, he told a group of high school pupils, "is abnormal from a social point of view", adding, somewhat unnecessarily, "I don't like it."
Weizman, typical of the blunt ex-generals who run Israeli politics, told his teenage audience that there were those "who tolerate the phenomenon", continuing in a mincing, high-pitched voice: "It has become `nice'."
Gay activists have already called on the president to resign, but they can hardly have been surprised at his attitudes. When he was asked a few years ago why Israel had no women air force pilots, he quipped: "The best men to the cockpit, the best women to the pilots."
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